Melissa Johns’ one-woman show, Snatched, opened its tour at The Lowry on Friday night to a packed studio theatre. The title of disabled actor Johns’ self-written show is a play on both a slang term for attractive or perfect-looking, and a reference to the naked photos that were taken from her hacked account in 2018 and released online.
This is the dramatic crux of the play, the catalyst for Johns’ reflection on her life and her body, and yet Snatched is not overtly explicit as you might expect. It’s thought-provoking and fast-paced – something that’s all the more impressive when you see how hard Johns works throughout, navigating character switches, costume changes and millions of sound cues – and cleverly balances comedy and more sensitive subject matter.
Johns relays anecdotes about being stared at and mocked with almost impassive frankness, while her traumatic experiences of an eating disorder and an invasive hospital treatment are described in graphic detail. The abusive, derogatory comments posted on Johns’ leaked pictures are displayed on a huge screen, forcing the audience to read and confront them in the same way that Johns did. The use of real photos, video footage and audio recordings of Johns and her family is truly moving, and – in spite of her presence in the public eye – you have to admire Johns’ courage in putting so much of her life onstage.
Fortunately, there are plenty of laughs to help ease us through the darker moments. Nostalgic 90s references – Johns mimicking the dial up tone, well-timed extracts from hits played live by musician, Imogen Halsey – are greeted with enthusiasm. Johns’ comic timing is spot on as she satirises sensationalist morning TV shows, transforming into smug host, Mia Sporgan with the flamboyant twirl of a scarf, while the MIHO (Most Influential Humanitarian Overachiever) awards ceremony that opens the show wittily confronts the damaging stereotyping of disabled people as heroes.
From a childhood conviction that she was ‘special’ and the realisation that she could use this to manipulate her parents, to becoming self-conscious as a teenager and actively trying to hide her arm, to ultimately finding the fire inside to stand up and be proud of her body, Johns’ story has the power to speak not just to those with physical disabilities, but to anyone who has ever been made to feel ashamed of who they are.
Snatched is at The Lowry on 13 and 14 May 2022.